It has been my lot to live most of my life in latitudes characterized by four distinct seasons, most of those years in places where winters are long and severe. Thinking about that, I realize that there has been a fifth season as well; for want of a better designation I will call it “Getting Ready for Winter Time.”
The northern New Jersey family home into which I was born was already 150 years old, having served as a stage coach stop and Inn since shortly after George Washington’s embattled troops were escaping by the skin of their teeth from New York City. Its twelve rooms wandered through four floors, including a basement which had once housed servants who prepared meals carried upstairs by a dumb waiter. It was built long before the word “insulation” took on its present meaning, and getting ready for winter was a dread thing to contemplate. I cannot even recall the exact number of heavy, glass-paned storm windows which had to be cleaned, re-puttied, lifted into place and hung to take the place of their screened cousins which of course had to be cleaned before their journey to a corner of the cellar for a winter’s respite. Then my mother’s “summer” carpets had to be replaced by their heavier and even clumsier “winter” versions, with all the “beating” and “moth ball treating” which had to take place before rolling them up on bamboo rods and hauling them to their storage loft until Easter time when they would fittingly rise-from-the-dead once again.
Then of course, my father gardened a half-acre whose harvest of vegetables and fruit had to be dealt with along with up to a hundred chickens and ducks whose quarters required a special seasonal clean-out. With the arrival of WW II, all of that became even more important, still leaving time for us to gather milkweed pods in the woods and fields for the war effort; not to forget scrap metal drives for us kids and bandage-rolling for our Moms.
During this stage of my life, we also rode out the “Great Hurricane of 1938,” which I realize now underlined the wisdom of everything else the times and seasons of everyday life in the Depression and WW II era was teaching me, and probably started the clock ticking on a later life devoted largely to the field of Disaster Planning and Emergency Management.
The move to a Vermont hillside farm in 1947 only added new dimensions to the term Getting Ready for Winter, especially with an environment whose climate history promised temperatures below zero for weeks at a time and heavy snowfall. Once the barn had been filled with hay, grain and silage for the livestock, it would be time to split, haul and stack the 20 cords of maple, beech, birch and ash we had been cutting and setting aside to dry and cure throughout the previous months, not only to heat a large un-insulated farmhouse built in the 1890s, but to fuel the maple syrup production in February and March. To reduce the penetration of winter winds, it was necessary to erect a protective shield around the home’s foundations by wrapping rolls of heavy tar paper behind which the resulting cavity could be filled with hay, straw or fall leaves hand-carried in baskets after which strips of wood could be tacked to keep out snow and moisture. Our water supply, crucial for house and out-buildings, flowed from a hillside spring a quarter of a mile away. During cold-weather months it was essential that this flow never slowed or stopped. (This happened one New Years day for a small neighboring farm house in which Shirley and I took up residence when we returned to civilian life. I had to haul all of our water in ten-gallon milk cans until the thawing days of June!)
As luck would have it my tour in wartime Korea put me in the very northern outposts we occupied in the winter of 1952 where the extreme storm tracks born in Siberia made the canvas of our tents seem very thin, sometimes freezing the zippers of our first sleeping bags. After several deadly nighttime bayonet attacks on front line positions, snaps replaced zippers. (I still continued to keep my .45 sidearm inside with me!)
Today, I actually look forward to the delivery of 2 cords of cut cedar which I insist on splitting and stacking myself; whether sentimentality or foolishness, I dare not guess.